China is on track to become the largest agricultural technology market in the world, with the government promising to create 1.3 trillion yuan ($18.6 billion) in new investment over the next five years.
But its ambitions are also being challenged by a rising tide of innovation in farming.
“There are a lot of challenges that we are facing, but the main one is the technology, and the other challenge is the environment,” said Zhang Zhenjun, chief executive officer of the China Agricultural Technology Industry Association, a trade group.
“We need to create the conditions to produce and to export in a sustainable way,” he said.
“We need a new approach and new research to create an environment where people can have a good quality of life.”
Zhang said the industry had been in a “very stable state” since it was founded in 2013, with a steady growth rate of more than 10% a year.
It is expected to grow by 7% in the next three years, according to the Chinese government.
But China’s efforts to produce more crops have been undermined by the country’s rapidly expanding use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and its lack of infrastructure to handle the increased demand.
China is also the world’s biggest importer of food, but exports have dropped since last year.
Zhang told the FT that while the sector was still growing, it had been “driven by the demand from China”.
“The environment is the main problem,” he added.
“The problem is that the agricultural technology industry has grown, but we need to make sure that the environment doesn’t become an issue.”
Zhu Xiangyong, a professor of agriculture at Beijing’s Fudan University, said the sector’s success depended on the ability of Chinese farmers to “adapt”.
“We must make sure we don’t change our strategies, we must adapt to the environment, we need more research, we have to think differently,” she said.
“The main challenge is not the technology but the environment.”